During our so-far six months on the road, we will be spending a total of six weeks in Utah. From the southern region to its northern region, each part of this state is spectacular in every season. There are an infinite number of cities and towns of all sizes to explore in this magical state and many of them can be explored in just a day. Below are the highlights of our day trip to Sundance and Salt Lake City.
What to do in Sundance, UT
The ski resort was purchased by actor, Robert Redford, in 1968 and named Sundance after his role in the 1969 film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The town later became famous for the Sundance Film Festival which has now trickled into Park City to accommodate the large crowds it attracts.
It is remarkable what one human's vision can fulfill. Redford began by acquiring just two acres of the area before he purchased its entirety. His aspirations spawned a huge movement towards supporting independent films while developing a destination ski area simultaneously.
The Sundance Resort is teeny tiny and breathtakingly beautiful. A creek runs through the small property that is adorned with original wooden structures that house screening rooms, two restaurants, a cafe, a bar, a general store, a deli, a food truck, and a lovely lodging area that includes a Yurt.
Of course, skiing is a big draw on this small mountain with only ten miles of ski trails. The scenic runs and smaller crowds appeal to skiers of all levels who want a more serene and quiet experience on the slopes. For those just coming in to walk through the resort grounds and learn about its history, below I highlight where to grab a bite and a good cup of Joe while strolling the striking property.
This massive, open-air cafe in a converted barn overflows with sunshine seeping through its windows. Creekside Cafe is a great place to cozy up by the wood-burning fireplace and refuel with a pre-made sandwich and a cup of freshly brewed drip coffee. Although they don't have a full-service coffee bar, they do offer a gorgeous space with front-row creekside views and vistas of the 12,000-foot Mt. Timpanogo that dominates the real estate. The cafe is only open in the winter to service skiers and snowboarders who are looking for a tasty but quick bite to eat before returning to the slopes.
The Foundry Grill
The food, ambiance, and service at The Foundry Grill are truly impeccable. Named to honor the miners and farmers who settled the land in the 1800s, the establishment pays homage to the land's ancestors with a warm, rustic interior that is seductive through its usage of natural woods throughout the space combined with soft lighting and a roaring fire. There are thoughtful details in every corner including in the presentation of their dishes. We shared the breakfast board and dirty fries loaded with poached egg, cheese, and scallions. Had we not already made lunch reservations somewhere else, and just eaten breakfast a couple of hours before arriving, we would have further dived into the menu. We loved every bite of these dishes that were served with the freshest ingredients and utmost pride in preparation.
The front space of the restaurant houses the Sundance Deli which serves made-to-order sandwiches, salads, and smoothies and operates as a full coffee bar. Behind the deli is a gallery that showcases photographs of the resort's rich history including the many familiar faces of celebrities who contributed to its past.
What to do in Salt Lake City, UT
An hour's drive from Sundance will take you to Salt Lake City. The capital of Utah truly impressed us with its cleanliness, great food scene, quaint neighborhoods, and overall cheerful residents. We didn't have any particular expectations but were left with a taste of great vibes and happy energy. There are many great neighborhoods to explore in the area. Below I'll highlight the best neighborhoods in Salt Lake City.
Sugarhouse is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods established in 1853 by Mormon settlers. Once designated as an area for former prison grounds, this part of town recently took a major turn and is now one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the city. Sugarhouse is packed with dance venues, restaurants, bars, galleries, and also boasts a vibrant shopping scene. There is an extremely young feel to this pedestrian-friendly alcove that provides many new housing constructions offering easy access to 2100 East, the neighborhood's main drag. It's lots of fun to walk the area and connect with its colorful charm.
SOMI Vietnamese Bistro
Many well-rated restaurants are loved by locals in the Sugarhouse area. I chose SOMI because we haven't eaten Vietnamese food in a while. The accolades this restaurant receives are well worthy, as the food was fantastic and authentic. The space is simple with some pops of color but the real burst is in the flavors. We ordered the crispy vegetable spring rolls, vegetable potstickers, tofu vermicelli, spicy homemade tofu, and sesame chicken. Everything was rich with fresh ingredients. We left extremely satisfied. I need great Vietnamese food in my life more often!
9th & 9th
Another adorable neighborhood in Salt Lake City lies on the tiny stretch of 9th & 9th. The area only spans a couple of blocks but explodes with art, mountain landscapes at every angle, unique retail shops, a throwback movie theater that screens indies, and some wonderful restaurant selections.
The unassuming storefront of Dolcetti Gelato gives no hint as to the fantastical decor that lurks inside. The space is so cool I forgot we went in for gelato! A mishmash of umbrellas, globes, toy soldiers, frames, and hundreds of other tchotchkes yields a funky space that is fun and truly memorable. Oh, and yes, the gelato is really good here!
Over our last six months on the road, we have visited many major cities. I can personally attest that Salt Lake City has the cleanest downtown of any big city we have ever visited. No homeless people were roaming the streets or lining up their tents along sidewalks. There was not one trace of litter. There was no graffiti. Seriously, the place was spotless. We visited on a Sunday when everything was closed but we managed to walk around and get a taste of the architecture and even learn about some Mormon history and facts.
Temple Square is a 10-acre complex that houses the Mormon church and its many facilities. The church began construction in 1853 and still stands proudly today in the heart of downtown. The juxtapositioning of the original architecture with the newer construction is striking and truly enjoyable to observe. Although tours inside the church were not available while we visited, due to Covid-19, under normal circumstances the public can book a free tour of the interior premises. This area is one of Utah's top tourist attractions and although I am not a Mormon, it was easy to appreciate the beauty of the premises and learn about the people who founded the city. On the outer perimeter of the square, past a bustling trolley trail, are lovely shopping complexes that house high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton and the likes. Downtown Salt Lake City will surprise you with its lively history, gothic revival architecture, and cleanliness.
We drove from Sundance to Salt Lake City and ultimately to Park City (originating our drive from Snowbird) within a few short hours. All these cities are under an hour from each other and make for extremely easy day trips. What is most striking is how different they each are despite their close proximity. Just a few hours on the road can take you through drastically dissimilar landscapes, lifestyles, cultures, histories, pastimes, etc. I cannot encourage you enough to get in your car and just drive. Wherever you are, just put the pedal to the metal and explore. It's the easiest way to broaden your horizons, reduce your assumptions, and connect yourself to others who you once may have thought were radically different from you. Exploring brings the quickest realizations that most folks are quite similar at their core despite the differences in their environments. Just drive. There is a whole world of captivating contrasts out there waiting for you.